Kenya is counting on increased air connectivity within Africa to grow tourism numbers in 2018.
The Tourism ministry projects the sector to register a 16 per cent growth riding on the visa-on-arrival policy for Africans and the United States direct flights.
“We have very positive projections for this year as we look forward to the Kenya Airways direct flights to the US that start in October and the visa-on-arrival initiative recently announced by the President to boost arrivals.
“We’re also excited and confident about the new cruise ship facility which will be ready by June this year,” said Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala on Thursday.
According to data released by the ministry on Thursday, Africa was the second largest source of tourists to Kenya in 2017 at 29 per cent behind Europe at 36 per cent. The US was third at 15 per cent.
The number of tourist arrivals from the US and United Kingdom grew by double digits boosting tourism earnings by 20 per cent amid travel warnings by the two governments against Kenya visit over the period.
American and Briton arrivals grew by 17 per cent and 11 per cent respectively spurring a 9 per cent growth in total international arrivals last year to 1,474,671.
Kenya earned $1.2 billion in 2017, a 20 per cent growth from $989 million the previous year despite a prolonged and tense electioneering period.
Mr Balala said the improved performance was evidence of improved security and the resilience of the tourism sector.
Sustained attacks by Somalia-based al-Shabaab militia between 2011 and 2015 hurt Kenya’s tourism with arrivals plunging by more than a third to 1.18 million from 1.8 million over the period.
The deteriorating security situation had attracted a barrage of travel advisories from the country’s key source markets.
“The biggest problem we had before was insecurity because of the al-Shabaab orchestrated attacks. But over the last three years the government has invested heavily in the security sector,” Mr Balala said.
With the sector yet to fully recover, the long electioneering period last year occasioned by tense campaigns, the annulment of the August 8 presidential election and boycott by the opposition of the repeat October 26 poll fuelled uncertainty with tourism experts fearing more losses for the industry.
However, even the domestic market recorded a 15.9 per cent growth with Kenyans taking up a total of 4.05 million bed nights compared to 3.5 million in 2016.
Visitors from neighbouring Uganda rose by 20.6 per cent to 61,542 to become the largest African tourist source market for Kenya in the continent.
Kenya is eyeing more Africans visiting the country after last December’s directive by President Uhuru Kenyatta to offer a visa on arrival for all the continent’s nationals.
This was in line with the African Union’s transformation agenda 2063 plan for a common visa policy with three primary components -visa-on-arrival for all African nationals, mandatory granting of a minimum 30-day visa for African citizens visiting any African country by 2018, and a single continental passport by 2020.
Last month, Kenya along with 22 other African countries adopted the AU Single African Air Transport Market to open their skies, a move experts say will see a reduction in airfares by 25 per cent and increase of intra-Africa travel, giving a major boost to tourism.